Lewis Rossignol is always creating art—around three or four pieces a day. He posts frequently to his Instagram, where he has amassed over 100,000 followers; he’s also sold prints, originals and books to nearly one hundred countries, and just about every state in America. But the primary reason he draws is not to impress a fanbase–it’s to ease his mind.
Rossignol has Tourette’s syndrome, and constantly creating art helps to relax his symptoms, a practice common of many with neurological disorders. What’s less common is the success he’s found, which recently led to a big-time collaboration with California rapper Tyler, the Creator, whose new album cover comes courtesy of Rossignol. After the announcement, Highsnobiety spoke with the Portland, Maine-based artist about connecting with Tyler and his road to building a successful practice.
When did you first come into contact with Tyler?
It was probably six months or so he reached out to me. He saw my stuff on Instagram and so he reached out to me about maybe doing some work for him–he wanted me to do a piece he could hang in his house or something. Nothing really came of it for a while though.
How did the album cover come to be?
It was a few months before he finally reached out and said “Do you think you would be able to FaceTime?” So he FaceTimed me that week and he said he had a project he was doing and he wanted me to do a portrait of him. It was pretty vague; he didn’t tell me what he’d want the portrait for, really. He said it might be for like, a book. So I was kinda going back and forth with him with the portrait, sending him different versions of it over the last two weeks.
I think it was Saturday that he messaged me and said, basically, do you mind if I use this portrait you did of me for my album cover? So I didn’t know it was going to be his album cover until about 48 hours before he announced it.
Tyler reached out to you through Instagram. When did you start using Instagram and how have you been able to build such a following on it?
As an artist, or anybody really, you kinda have to use it because it’s the way to get your work seen. You can have a website, but unless you have something else driving people to your website, nobody’s ever going to find you. So I just started posting on Instagram a couple years ago.
Most of my growth through Instagram has been natural. Before I did this piece for Tyler I had about 90,000 followers, and (since the announcement) I’ve got about 12,000 in the last two days; I don’t consider that really natural. Most of my growth has really been slow over time, over the past few years, a few new followers a day. But it’s because I’m using hashtags a lot, and I’m posting regularly. 99% of the stuff you see on my Instagram, it’s not commissioned work, it’s just personal drawings. I have Tourette’s syndrome, and drawing actually helps calm my tics. So that’s why I post a lot, because I’m drawing a lot: I draw about 3 or 4 pictures a day.
How has creating art helped you with Tourette’s?
I don’t know how much you know about Tourette’s–people think about Tourette’s as someone randomly yelling swears, but that’s like, one percent of people with Tourette’s. 99% of people just have tics; they may wink their eyes, or they may sniff or clear their throat. That’s mainly what I have: I have Tourette’s where I have tics in my face, I sniff, I make weird noises here and there.
I don’t know exactly when it was, but there was just a point where my wife may have noticed it. I was drawing and she was like, “When you draw, you don’t tic. You’re not making those noises.” I didn’t even think about it. I don’t know what it is about it; maybe because I’m using my hand eye coordination and I’ve got music going so I’ve got enough going on. It’s a weird thing to try to explain. But if we’re ever sitting there and I’m having really bad episodes, she’s like, “You need to sit down and draw for a little bit.” And it really helps.
What advice would you give to others with Tourette’s syndrome?
I know there’s a lot of other people that have found creating art or music can help them with different mental illnesses. So I think if you can find some type of a creative avenue that you enjoy–you don’t have to be great at it, but if you enjoy it, and it’s helping your tics and your sanity, then go for it.